Erin had four silver coins left after buying a large cloth bag and the food. That was just enough for…well, she didn’t know. But it certainly wasn’t enough for a lantern, much less a sword. She doubted it was even enough for her clothes.
She sat in the shade of one of the buildings and stared silently at the four silver shapes in her hand. It wasn’t so bad. She still had some money, and she’d bought enough food for now. It was just…
She’d started out with two gold coins and a full handful of silver and copper ones. And in an instant they’d been spent. And that wasn’t bad either; she’d bought a lot of food. Stuff like sugar was expensive, right? Especially in a place that wasn’t modern like this. But she couldn’t help but feel it was a mistake.
She hadn’t seen any other shoppers trade gold coins for what they’d bought. Not one and especially not that much for some food. She had a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach. She thought—
No. She knew she’d been ripped off.
And it hurt. It really did. Erin wanted to go back there and punch the Drake shopkeeper in the face, but she had a pretty good idea of what would happen if she did. Plus, he could probably eat her face if she tried.
So. Erin sat and stared at her hand. Four silver coins.
She could still go shopping with that much money. She could find another market, find another, shop and…
And do what? She didn’t know how much money things cost and she didn’t know how to buy clothes for her.
Everyone in this city wore clothing, but the definition of that really varied. Some of the male Drakes wore extremely exposed clothing, sometimes leaving their chests completely bare save for a light cloak, while the female ones usually had more on. Still, even that was varied because it seemed showing skin—or rather, scales, was the fashion around here. Only the Gnolls seemed to adhere to human-style dress code.
It was one of the hidden truths of the world. Money was useless if you had no idea what to spend it on and everyone ripped you off.
Everything would be so much simpler if she could read. Was that too much to ask?
Erin put her head on her arm and closed her eyes for a moment. Her head jerked up and she nearly smacked it against the building behind her as she realized something.
She couldn’t read. But she knew people who could.
Relc. Or Klbkch. Either one of them would know all about clothing and money and stuff like that.
Erin stood up. She pocketed her silver coins and wished she’d thought of this before she’d lost all her money. But maybe four silver coins was a lot of money? She’d have to ask. And they’d help her, surely. Because that’s what guardsmen did, right? Just like how police officers were so willing to help anyone who came to them with a problem.
Erin pushed that thought out of her head. Guardsmen were not police officers. They were allowed to kill people without due process, for one thing. And besides, Relc liked her pasta. Now all she had to do was find the guardhouse without being able to read the signs.
She started walking down the street, looking around for anything that screamed of jail cells or law and order. She tried very hard not to think about what she’d do if Relc or Klbkch were both off-duty.
Relc was off-duty. So was Klbkch. But for the moment Relc was lounging around the mess hall of the guard’s barracks. He was playing a game where he tossed a wickedly sharp dagger up into the air and caught it as it fell back to the floor. Half the time he caught the dagger. The other half he missed or knocked the dagger flying. He sat in a widely vacated corner of the room.
Only a few other Drakes were sitting at the long wooden benches, chowing down on hard bread, cheese, and unidentifiable strips of meat. Well, unidentifiable to humans. It was more gray than red.
One of the guards was talking with his fellows. He stood up and approached Relc cautiously. Unlike Relc, his scales were a very pale blue, and he was smaller if not shorter than the other Drake. He cleared his throat while standing at a respectful distance from Relc’s game.
“Hey Relc. I hear there’s a Human wandering around the city.”
Relc looked up and missed the dagger as it flipped down.
The other guardsman sighed as Relc sucked at the point of red blood oozing from his scales.
“You’ve got no talent for that game. If you didn’t have [Thick Skin], you’d have cut your hand off years ago.”
Relc smiled smugly.
“I don’t just have [Thick Skin]. I’ve got [Iron Skin] too.”
The blue Drake rolled his eyes.
“That explains everything. What kind of level do you have to be to get that, anyways? No one else has it so it must be high level.”
Relc began trimming his claws with the dagger. Although in his case, he wasn’t making the nails shorter; just sharpening them.
“It was the last skill I got from my [Soldier] class. I think you get it in [Spearmaster] as well, but I don’t know. Either way, it’s a life-saver.”
“I’ll bet. No wonder you don’t worry about hurting yourself you smooth-scaled bastard.”
“Now, now. Don’t be jealous.”
Relc swept the nail clippings off the table with one hand.
“Too bad I never got any dagger skills. I can’t understand how this stupid flipping works.”
“Then stop flipping. It’s annoying and you keep nearly hitting people. Remember Lism? He’s still got scars.”
“No. If Klbkch can do it, so can I. Anything that damn bug can do I can do better. But hey, what’s this about a Human? Is it that female one I was telling you about?”
This time another green Drake jumped into the conversation.
“Belsc – the guy on western gate duty – he didn’t say much other than that he thought it was a Human female. What was the name of the one you met?”
Relc scratched his head and looked up at the ceiling.
“Um. Sol? Solace? It was something like that. Ervin Solace? Did he mention anything else about her?”
The green Drake bared his teeth.
“Yeah. He said she was really annoying. And she talked too much.”
Relc laughed. The other Drake shook his head.
“Humans. I don’t know why you’re interested in this one. It’s certainly not the smell, to hear Belc talk.”
“Yeah, you get used to that.”
Relc leaned back in his chair and played with the dagger.
“Still, she’s interesting. Erin, or whatever her name is. She makes a mean plate of pasta, let me tell you. And she’s tougher than she looks—I didn’t think any Human could survive out in the floodplains that long. She’s funny too.”
He grinned as the other guards made disparaging noises.
“Hey, I’m telling the truth here. Little Miss Human isn’t that bad. You should meet her. But let me tell you, she can also be pretty annoying. Remember that Necromancer guy I told you me and Klbkch tracked down? She wouldn’t let us kill him even after he blasted us both with a few spells. Just kept saying that he wasn’t that bad.”
Relc nodded in agreement with the other guard.
“They’re interesting and entertaining, but they don’t have much inside their fleshy heads. I’d never trust a Human to make the smart decision. Am I right?”
Relc looked around for confirmation as the other Drakes laughed with him. He laughed boisterously until he saw the human female staring at him across the mess hall. His laugher cut off instantly.
The other Drakes looked over in curiosity at the human female. She wasn’t that special to them; one human looked much like the other. She was staring at Relc, who looked extremely uncomfortable.
He cleared his throat.
The door closed behind Erin as she walked out.
A nasty silence fell over the mess hall. Relc looked at the others.
“How long was she here?”
The blue Drake shrugged.
“Dunno. She must’ve walked in while you were talking.”
“Oh bite me.”
Relc leapt up from his chair.
“Hey Miss Human! Wait! I didn’t meant it!”
The other Drakes watched as he dashed out of the room. Then they turned back to their conversation.
“So. When did you spot her?”
“Right at the start. Did you see her expression? Relc’s not gonna have an easy time explaining that.”
“Serves him right. But did you smell her?”
“Yeah. Humans. They don’t wash.”
“I hear they roll around in their own filth.”
“Disgusting. Why’s Relc interested in one anyways?”
“Why do you think?”
“I still don’t get it. There’s no scales, nothing firm to grab. What’s the point?”
“Search me. Maybe it’s just Relc. He’s weird.”
“Anyways, Humans. Haven’t seen one in a long time. Did you see it? So fleshy.”
“Disgusting. Let’s go eat some meat.”
Erin walked out of the city gates and through the grass. She walked as fast as she could, which wasn’t very. The cloth bag she was carrying was more like a satchel, and it was loaded down with a lot of stuff. She was impressed that it could fit the bag of flour and other ingredients she’d bought without the fabric breaking, but it also meant she had to carry all of that on her shoulders.
A bag of flour is quite heavy. But Erin carried it anyways, ignoring the pain in her right shoulder. Her left one was already sore. She’d switch shoulders when the pain became unbearable.
“Hey! Miss Erin! Wait!”
Erin kept walking.
“Oh come on. Please?”
Relc appeared next to her in a blur. He was quick for such a huge guy. Erin turned her head so she didn’t have to look at him directly.
“So, how’s my favorite Human doing? Good? Bad? Um. I uh, don’t suppose you heard what I was saying. It was just a joke, really. I didn’t mean…”
Keep walking. Erin’s feet were already sore, but she put one foot in front of the other. She had a long way to go to get back to the inn, and the bag she was carrying was heavy.
“Look, I know I was sort of—okay, I was rude, but let’s talk. Hello? Are you listening?”
Erin didn’t look at him or speak. She just kept walking. Put one foot in front of the other. She was so tired and sore she barely felt hungry.
Eventually he went away. Erin kept walking though. She was trying to make it back to the inn before the sun set. It was going to be a close race.
She was about halfway to her destination when the first stone flew over her head. Erin instinctively ducked and so the next two stones missed her and landed in the grass. She looked around.
At first she couldn’t spot where the stones were coming from. Two missed her, but the third struck her on the shoulder.
Erin spotted the origin of the stone. It was a Goblin. The small creature was hard to spot in the fading twilight. It was standing on a hill and hurling rocks down at Erin. And it wasn’t alone.
Two more Goblins screeched and threw stones at her from their hilltop, making her flinch away and pull the bag up to shield her head. But then they just pelted her legs.
She covered her face with her arms. The stones kept flying. And they hurt. Even at this distance the rocks cut her arms and bruised her flesh. Already she felt blood trickling down one arm.
Erin knelt on the ground and shielded her head with her bag. That made her less of a target, but the barrage of stones continued. It wasn’t as if the Goblins could hurt her, not so long as they kept hitting her back, but they just didn’t stop. And if she got up they’d aim for her head.
What could she do? Erin felt the stinging hail cut into her back. She had to run. At them? Away? They’d steal all her food if she did. But could she attack them? Fight? If she got any closer the stones could gouge out her eyes, injure her badly. What could she do? What could she—
Something moved past Erin in a blast of air. She flinched and looked around but it was already gone. Then her eyes travelled to the hill. Someone was rushing at the Goblins, ducking under the stones and deflecting the ones that came close to his head with a fast-moving…spear…?
“Hey! Slither off you little bastards!”
The stones stopped flying abruptly. Erin heard a high-pitched scream and several heavy thwacks. Cautiously, she got up and looked around.
The Goblins were running away in full retreat. Relc stood on the hilltop, spear in hand. He waved at her and leapt down the hill in a few long strides.
“Hello there, Miss Erin. Fancy meeting you here.”
Erin stared up at him. He offered her a toothy grin and a hand up. She stood up by herself and picked up her bag.
Relc cleared his throat expectantly.
“It’s not often I get to rescue a damsel in distress. That’s what they call Human females, right? Damsels? Anyways, I saw you were in trouble so I immediately rushed to help.”
Erin began walking again. She heard Relc follow after a second’s hesitation.
“Okay, okay. So they weren’t that dangerous. And I was just doing my job; true. But I am sorry. Really. I said too much back there.”
She said nothing. Her vision was blurring over from the cutting pain of the bag’s strap as it carved a groove into her shoulder.
“That looks heavy. Here, let me carry it for you.”
Relc reached for the bag. Erin pulled away.
“No. I’m fine.”
“Oh come on. Don’t be like that. I just—well, it was just me being careless, alright? Let’s talk. Please?”
Erin tried to walk faster, but her legs were already giving up. Relc easily kept pace with her. He was even able to walk backwards faster than her.
“Look. I’m very sorry Miss Erin. Let me carry your bag. It must be quite heavy, and this way we can talk without one of us falling over.”
Erin grudgingly slowed down. It was a tempting offer. Her legs were screaming to accept Relc’s generous offer and have him carry her as well. Her shoulder was already in another dimension of pain.
She unslung the bag, wincing as blood returned to her arm. Relc lifted the bag with one hand and slung it over his shoulders. Then he kept pace with Erin as if nothing had happened.
Relc scratched the spines on the back of his head, looked down, looked up, and sighed.
“I really didn’t meant it. It’s just—Necromancers, y’know? They’re dangerous. And it’s best to kill them on sight. You ever seen a thousand zombies trying to eat anything in sight? Even if they’re low-level, even if they play nice, I could never trust a Necromancer.”
“Especially not if they’re human.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“But that’s what you think.”
Relc didn’t have anything to say to that. They both walked on in silence, faster now that the bag wasn’t weighing Erin down.
“So. You bought food, huh? Making lots of pasta tonight?”
“I’m going to sleep.”
“Right, right. But uh, good to see you made it to the city. So how’d you like it?”
Relc was clearly casting around desperately for subject matter. He peeked into the bag. Erin could practically feel him salivating.
“Sausages. Mm. But hey, why didn’t you buy any clothes? I thought all females loved clothes, Drake or Human.”
Erin’s stomach twisted. She avoided his gaze and mumbled.
“I didn’t have enough money.”
Relc looked at her askance and peered into the bag he was carrying.
“No. I mean, there’s food in here but that’s only a few silver coins at best. I’m sure you had more than that, right? How much did you spend?”
Erin felt her face heating up. She looked at the ground.
“A few gold coins. Some silver ones and copper ones.”
He stopped. Erin didn’t. She heard him muttering to himself and then swearing. It sounded like swearing. He loped forwards and was next to her in an instant.
“Really? What kind of rotscale sold you—why did you spend that much money?”
She stared at the grass as she trampled it. It was tinted with a lovely deep orange color in the sun’s fading glow.
“I just thought it was the right price, I guess. I didn’t want to argue.”
Relc muttered under his breath and sighed in exasperation.
“Well, I could go back to the market and ask around. But—I don’t suppose you caught the name of the store.”
“I can’t read the language here.”
Relc sighed again. Deeply.
“Right, right. Well, if you remembered his face I could find who sold you all that, but I doubt anyone’d bear witness against him. And there’s not much for me to go on. I mean, he sold you overpriced goods but it was your fault as well. No offense meant Miss, but how’d you trade a gold coin for a sack or two of flour?”
Erin couldn’t think of anything to say to that.
They walked on in silence. At last the inn was in sight. Erin trudged up the last incline, her legs screaming all the way. She paused at the door.
“I can take the bag now.”
“You sure? I can carry it in—”
Erin accepted the bag and her legs wobbled. She opened the door with one hand.
She wanted to close the door, but Relc held it open effortlessly. He scratched at the back of his neck awkwardly.
“Look, I’m still really sorry about before. I didn’t mean—well, I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”
Erin looked up at him. She just wanted to close her eyes. But he seemed sincere. So she mustered a bit of sincerity herself.
“Thanks for helping. With the Goblins.”
Relc gave her a wide, toothy grin.
“It was nothing. They’re no threat to me, or anyone with a few levels in any warrior. But don’t worry about those pests. I said I’d make it up to you, didn’t I? I’ll do something about them.”
Maybe it was an empty promise. But it made Erin smile a tiny bit.
“Thanks. Good night.”
Relc curled his tail up and flicked her a salute with both hand and tail at the same time.
“Until later, Miss Erin.”
Erin watched as he rapidly disappeared into the dark landscape. She vaguely envied the speed and effortless grace with which he moved. Then she closed the door.
There wasn’t much light so Erin just put the bag in the kitchen and lay down on the floor of the common room.
“I need to buy a pillow. And blankets. When I have the money for it.”
So instead she just used the cloth bag she’d bought as a pillow. Erin tried to get comfortable on the hardwood floor, but the very nature of it was giving her a…hard time. Besides, her shoulders ached. Her legs still hurt from the long walk. And if it were only that which hurt, she would already be asleep.
But instead Erin lay in the silence, listening to her heart beat. She wanted to say something, to think something better. But there wasn’t anything. So she stared at the hazy shapes in the dark room. It took her a long time before her eyes closed.
[Innkeeper Level 6!]
This time she said nothing at all. She just cried for a bit before she fell asleep.